For a public intellectual, who professes to have internalised Rabindranath Tagore’s worldview, Amartya Sen’s refusal to accept that he has miserably failed in shaping and nurturing the one project entrusted to him, shows his own diminishing capacities of rational judgement

Upon approaching a certain age, the Bharatiya civilisational philosophy stipulates that one is to quietly fade away in order to focus one’s depleting energies to the pursuits of a more sublimated and ethereal quest leading to a deeper state of introspection and surrender. But then there are some, especially those migratory intellectuals, who have always ensured that they extract the best of both worlds — the developed and developing — who refuse to give way and recognise that their era is finally over. It is such types which are now active — generating shallow debates, obfuscating issues and resorting to false propaganda.

Professor Amartya Sen, is a leading one among such types, who refuses to read the writing on the wall and whose sole academic pursuit, at such an advanced age, is to periodically fly into India to bad-mouth the Narendra Modi Government and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. In fact, it is a pattern with Professor Sen that he continues, as he has done most of his life, to bat for extraneous interest groups which almost never have had India’s civilisational interests in mind.

It is the magnanimity of the Narendra Modi-led BJP Government, that despite Professor Sen’s intemperate outbursts, it has not — at least not yet — sought a White Paper on the entire Nalanda University project since its inception and has not instituted an enquiry as to why, the much touted project failed to take off even when it was relentlessly mentored by such a supposedly eminent group steered by Professor Sen himself.

This has not happened, as Professor Sen would have liked us to believe because of his pressure and refusal to “quietly slunk away”, but rather because of the Modi dispensation’s essential democratic ethos — that is why a number of Governors were allowed to complete their tenures, a number of president and vice presidents of various institutions, both educational and cultural were allowed to reach the end of their terms and conferred the dignity to quietly retire. Such an approach is in stark contrast to the culture of booting that Professor Amartya Sen’s political parties of preference, namely the Congress and the Communist parties, have traditionally practiced in India.

For a public intellectual, who professes to have internalised Rabindranath Tagore’s worldview, Professor Sen’s refusal to accept that he has miserably failed in shaping and nurturing the one project entrusted to him, which perhaps after Tagore’s experiment at Visva-Bharati, could have been termed as historic or epochal, shows his own diminishing capacities of rational judgement.

Some, of course, argue that this brazen refusal to admit failure is the manifestation of an attitude which disdains accountability in a democratic framework. So pitiful was his stewardship of the project that after nearly seven of years of continuous meetings and mentorship, with a great amount of resource at his disposal, all that Professor Sen had to show in terms of the actual Nalanda University, were a few uninspiring buildings, a fence, and an office of the University, interestingly, not in Rajgir, but in New Delhi’s posh Jor Bagh locality. Ironically, despite storming their brains in exotic locales over the years, despite delivering lectures, ad infinitum, on the raison d’être of the Nalanda University, the mentor group could only ensure that the University was inaugurated in a convention centre with no functioning campus of its own. Such unaccountable behaviour would have surely not been tolerated in Professor Sen’s adopted country, would it?

It would be useful to make two observations. One, instead of advising the Narendra Modi Government on education and discerning a pattern of ‘Hindutva’ in educational recruits in the country, Professor Sen should have, in the past, tried, with the might of his unassailable personality, to arrest the decay of Visva-Bharati, once his home.

Instead of actively trying to stem the rot and degeneration of Rabindranath Tagore’s original vision over the decades, Professor Sen looked the other way, contented and self-centered, and did not take to task the party which ruled this country for the longest period of time and under whose watch the decline started and was allowed to gather momentum. Questioning that political party or the vision of its leader would have instantly ensured the closure of his many avenues to fame and to plenty. So partisan is Professor Sen in this respect that he continues to support academic cabals in Visva-Bharati, especially its Vice Chancellor, against whom charges galore have been unearthed and who till this day continues to resist all attempts to bring him to account.

The other point is regarding the recruitment pattern to educational institutions — it is a well known fact that the party run by Professor Sen’s ideological comrades in West Bengal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), was the one party which had mastered the art of stuffing educational institutions with mediocre party apparatchiks who essentially ran and shepherded the party at the grassroots the whole time while being paid for teaching. Perhaps some historian can someday undertake a project of how the University of Calcutta lost its academic sheen and glory just because some CPI(M) State general secretary controlled it for years and ensured that it essentially became the political playground where future leaders of the proletariat were trained without owing any allegiance to academic excellence. Since bourgeois institutions had to be destroyed in order to make way for a true revolution, premier educational institutions had to be mutilated first.

And while this Indian version of the cultural revolution was being carried out, Professor Sen was feted, celebrated and revered in the State by those very apparatchiks who sawed at its educational edifice. Professor Sen, of course, on his part, reveled in the attention and worship showered on him and wisely chose to keep silent on the emasculation of the educational framework being then carried out. A protest would have instantly turned him into a reactionary or a revisionist and who would have wanted to be stuck with such a label?

On Professor Sen’s recruitment habit in the Nalanda project, one could say a number of things but paucity of space suffices it to point out that overriding an established system of setting up of a panel of three to five names by a search committee, through public notification or a talent search process or in combination, overriding the University Grants Commission regulation (September 18, 2010) on minimum qualification for the appointment of teachers and other academic staff in universities and colleges which says that a Vice Chancellor “should be a distinguished academician, with a minimum of 10 years of experience as a professor in a University or 10 years of experience in an equivalent position in a reputed research and/or academic administrative organisation”, overriding the mentor group’s view that the inaugural rector should be of international eminence, Professor Sen, unilaterally made a recruitment of the first rector on grounds which he alone knows best but which were confounding and did not confirm to rules of the land. He has often waved away any question on this front citing the “international nature” of the project.

But then this is vintage Professor Sen — ducking, dodging, twisting and then sulking and throwing tantrums when caught and called to book. However, heureusement, in a changing India, types such as his, will increasingly be confined to the relic room of history.

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